Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is in the European leg of an eleven-day trip abroad. From Finland, she’s flying to Belgium and London, after which she will proceed to Havana, Cuba on September 14 for the 14th Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) which actually started yesterday, September 11. From Havana she will fly to Hawaii before she returns to the Philippines.

Mrs. Arroyo has been named–unanimously, says a press release from the Philippine mission at the United Nations in New York–a vice chair of the NAM Summit.

Some 1960s ex-activists familiar with what NAM used to be are puzzled over Mrs. Arroyo’s attendance at the NAM Summit, and even more incredulous over her designation as a vice chair.

Although she will be only one among several others, to old-timers who associate NAM with such giants as India’s Jawaharlal Nehru and Indonesia’s Sukarno, it seems almost a travesty of what they think NAM still stands for that Mrs. Arroyo should be in practically the same towering company.

It would have been unthinkable in the 1960s, when NAM first gained prominence. But the Philippines is today among NAM’s 116 members. It’s a motley group of developing countries that includes those run by some of the most authoritarian regimes on the planet, many of them “aligned” with the United States. NAM’s current membership and Mrs. Arroyo’s vice chairmanship indicate how much NAM and the world have changed since the Movement was first conceived in Bandung, Indonesia in 1955.

The idea behind NAM, as then argued by Nehru and Sukarno, was to steer clear of alignment with either the United States or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and to instead focus on forging relationships of mutual benefit, interest, and non-interference among Third World countries. Its premise being the Cold War, and the Cold War having ended with the demise of the USSR and the Soviet bloc, NAM has been struggling to define itself since 1990.

If the term non-aligned is to have any meaning, membership today would be based on non-alignment with any major power bloc such as the United States and its allies. But, as in the Cold War past when NAM was accused of leaning towards the USSR, that has proven difficult to enforce.

But the Arab and Islamic bloc is a fairly large bloc within NAM, and therein lies an issue Mrs. Arroyo might have to explain in Havana. Although the Philippines has a history of voting with the Arab-Islamic bloc at the United Nations, it abstained during the August 11 vote on the UN Human Rights Council resolution condemning Israeli violations of human rights in Lebanon. Diplomats from Arab and Islamic states later complained that the Philippines’ abstention could affect its relations with the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The OIC is the biggest organization of Islamic states in the world, with 55 members including Philippine neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia. In addition to the possibility that Mrs. Arroyo will receive a chilly reception from the Islamic countries when she gets to Havana, there’s also the potential problem of how the Philippines would vote on any NAM resolution condemning Israel for its bombing of, and other acts in, Lebanon.

At the root of this and other regime dilemmas is the lack of coherence in its foreign policy, which, while firmly committing the Philippines to the United States, also pretends to develop and maintain relations with such groups as the OIC even as it maintains the fiction of non-alignment at NAM.

But if domestic affairs are not the regime’s strong suit, neither is foreign policy. The only consistency in what passes for foreign policy nowadays is the regime’s slavish devotion to US interests, goals and policies in word and deed, and whenever and wherever those may be at issue. That devotion in fact helps explain its non-support for the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Lebanon, which the US opposed.

The same subservience also explains the regime’s blithe indifference to European concern over the political killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines. The skeptical can be forgiven for believing that the very bottom line of regime policy is keeping the US happy. That could help Filipinos understand why the human rights violations in the country of their sorrows are continuing despite European and international human rights organizations’ alarm: the US hasn’t protested (and it won’t), so who cares?

This attitude shows in the way Mrs. Arroyo was supposed to have preempted possible Finnish criticism of regime inaction and even complicity in the political killings. She told the Finnish government that she has created two bodies to look into them–and described the bodies as “independent.”

The two bodies are the Melo Commission and the Philippine National Police’s Task Force Usig. Apparently Mrs. Arroyo thinks the Finns and other Europeans stupid enough to believe that a body headed and run by her own police, and another which includes a government prosecutor and an NBI functionary, can be described as “independent.”

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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